Nine bills designed to improve protections for Delaware's children became law today on the steps of the State Capitol. Governor Jack Markell joined Attorney General Beau Biden and legislators from across the state to sign legislation to strengthen patient protections and improve oversight in response to the case of former pediatrician Earl Bradley.
The bills signed today reflect recommendations that came out of separate reviews the Attorney General and the Governor ordered after Bradley was arrested on charges that he allegedly molested over 100 young patients at his Lewes pediatric office. Widener Law School Dean Linda Ammons conducted the independent review the Governor requested. Both reports found multiple instances of systemic failure and made clear that the laws and procedures in this area were broken and in need of significant reform to better protect patients.
"The crimes that Earl Bradley is charged with are unforgivable and incomprehensible. After the arrest it was clear that we needed to ask difficult questions about how this happened and get real answers back on how to better protect our children. These laws are a result of those answers," Markell said.
The Governor pointed out before the signings how many Delawareans came together to make these bills a reality and thanked the legislature for the broad and bipartisan support on every vote on every bill.
"This legislation increases protections for young patients, addresses serious shortcomings in Delaware law governing the medical profession, clarifies the obligation to report abuse, and increases penalties for doing so," Biden said. "This legislation will ensure that patients and children will receive the medical care they deserve without the fear of harm. I want to thank Governor Markell and legislators for coming together to make these important reforms a reality."
"Every one of us deserve and is entitled to competent, professional and respectful medical treatment from doctors and other medical providers who, at all times, behave in a manner fully consistent with the trust we place in them," said Senator Brian Bushweller (D-Dover). "And every one of us is entitled to a medical profession serving our state that demands of its practitioners the highest standards of propriety and dignity."
"We know that over 100 children were victimized," said Senator Catherine Cloutier, (R-Heatherbrooke), "This has happened in my family. Some choose to sweep it under the rug--my family decided that we were going to deal with it. I hope that we have all learned that we have to be vigilant in reporting any questionable behaviors for the sake of the children and to avoid more heartaches for them in the future."
"Legislators, law enforcement, state agencies, and the Governor's office all came together with common purpose and focus to keep in mind what was most important," said House Majority Leader Rep. Peter C. Schwartzkopf, whose district includes Bradley's former practice. "We can't undo what has happened, but we have taken steps to ensure that this never happens again, that there isn't a breakdown in the system. This package of bills takes several important steps in addressing the problems that both the governor and attorney general's reviews found. For me, the most important pieces are the education component and having agencies communicate with each other. While these bills aren't going to be a cure-all, we hope they will address the issues identified and prevent future tragedies."
"We cannot undo the horrible crimes that have been committed," said State Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown). "I believe these bills are among the most important laws we'll enact this year because they will provide increased communication that'll help ensure that those responsible for these types of despicable acts are exposed as early as possible."
The Governor made clear the signing was not a time for celebration: "It is customary after a bill signing to applaud; I do not want to hear that today. Rather, let us let the silence speak, for our resolve that justice be done here, and our resolve to improve protections for our children."
SENATE BILL 296
* Reorganizes the Board of Medical Practice to increase the number of public members
* Renames the Board of Medical Practice the Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline
* Gives the Board the ability to expedite suspensions of medical licenses where there is a threat to the public
* Gives the Board expanded authority to obtain information from peer review panels. Previously, the Board was only allowed to get peer review documents when the panel disciplined a physician. SB 296 opens that up -- to give the Board the ability to investigate peer review panels without regard for whether the panel disciplined the doctor or not.
SENATE BILL 297
* Promotes the reporting of child abuse and allegations of unprofessional practice by healthcare practitioners and institutions by:
o allowing the Dept of Health and Social Services to discipline hospital and nursing facilities licensed by the Dept if they fail to make mandatory reports of child abuse; and
o Increasing the potential civil penalties for persons or entities who fail to report child abuse to the child abuse hotline.
SENATE BILL 298
* Gives, for the first time, the Board of Medical Practice the authority to impose fines on hospitals, other health care institutions and the Medical Society. All of those entities had a duty to report physician misconduct to the Board of Medical Practice, but the Board could not impose sanctions for failing to do so. This bill corrects that.
* SB298 also increases the potential fines for unprofessional conduct by a physician -- so that the Board will have real teeth to enforce those monetary penalties.
SENATE BILL 229
* Clarifies who is in a "position of trust" for purposes of various sexual assault crimes.
* Reorganizes the current elements of "position of trust" within the rape and unlawful sexual conduct statutes into a new crime known as "sexual abuse of a child by a person in a position of trust, authority or supervision."
* Applies the "position of trust" category to other acts of sexual abuse that do not currently have any enhancement when perpetrated by a person in a "position of trust," including sexual extortion, sexual harassment, and indecent exposure.
HOUSE BILL 456
* Requires that there be another adult in the room when a physician is treating a person 15 years of age or younger and the child is disrobed or otherwise undergoing certain physical examinations.
* Requires that physicians give notice to parents that they have a right to have a chaperone present when their child is being examined.
HOUSE BILL 457
* Enacts the recommendations in the Ammons and Attorney General's report that professionals receive additional training in recognizing and reporting child abuse and creates new training requirements for physicians, police and prosecutors.
HOUSE BILL 458
* Reforms how we license Delaware physicians. For example, many Delaware physicians have never had any criminal background check.
* Requires all physicians -- both currently practicing and new physicians -- to undergo the same kind of background check that we require of teachers and other professionals who work with youth.
HOUSE BILL 459
* Improves the reporting process of the Board of Medical Practice by strengthening the Board's authority to police unprofessional conduct and clarifying and simplifying the Board's administrative procedures to improve the efficiency of the board and its ability to work with law enforcement.
* This act also makes certain similar changes that would affect all boards administered by the Division of Professional Regulation.
HOUSE BILL 485
* Improves communications between the Division of Professional Regulation and the criminal justice community by requiring the Division of Professional Regulation to report criminal activity to the DELJIS (Delaware Criminal Justice Information System).